I loved Wall-e on its release in 2008 but watching it recently that effect has diminished. This is the kind of reaction you would expect when you watch a film for the second (or third or fourth) time. You remember the film, the plot, its characters and its resolution and upon watching it for the second time you view the film on a different level.
The first time it’s revealing itself to you moment by moment, you have an idea of where it’s going but you don’t know what’s going to happen for sure. A second watch leaves you thinking about the film in a different way; at times you’re more expectant, waiting for a particular moment you liked to turn up. As a result the parts you like feel more like highlights leaving you indifferent to scenes you didn’t like. It’s a fight between the moments you love and the moments you can do without.
That’s the feeling I have with Wall-e.
I haven’t watched the film since I bought it on DVD in 2008, that’s a full two years since I last saw it and seeing it announced on the TV schedule I was excited in seeing it again. The subsequent viewing left me a lot more critical of the film than I was two years ago and in general indifferent to its charms. What had changed? Why was I underwhelmed by scenes in a film I loved a few years ago? Part of it, I think, is the sense that the film doesn’t hold up too well on a second viewing, another part is that I think I’m beginning to see through Pixar.
Pixar are undoubtedly a talented bunch, I think people can talk about their films and each time someone would come up with a different film that they liked. It’s a testament to the strength and diversity of the films they make. However, there is something familiar with Pixar films, a feature some others have picked up on but hasn’t been a criticism I was willing to indulge.
I don’t watch Pixar films very often, more often is the case that I will watch one Pixar film and that will be the only time I’ll watch one of their films. I can’t remember the last time I watched A Bug’s Life or Ratatouille. With Toy Story 3 still fresh in the mind i couldn’t help but see a few comparisons between the films with one scene in particular causing the greatest consternation.
In Wall-e it’s the scene where he returns to earth and EVE finds the parts to put him back together but he doesn’t remember (at first) who she is. its direct counterpart in Toy Story 3 (in my mind) is not the scene where the toys are given away to the girl but the scene in the incinerator, you know the one, the scene that almost had me believing that these toys were about to meet their end.
Both scenes are very emotional, the bond between Wall-e and EVE that’s been struck over the course of the film forms the spine, the emotional centre for that film. When Wall-e doesn’t recognise her it feels as if EVE’s attempt to get him back to Earth was in vain. It’s a hopeless and potentially numbing way to end a film and it’s much the same with the toys at the junk yard. We’re in uncharted territory and because of that we’re not sure how things will turn out.
Except having watched that scene in Toy Story 3, Wall-e’s eventual resuscitation feels diminished and recycled. If we strip it down to its bare elements we’re left with a character falling at the last hurdle engendering an emotional reaction from the viewer. Will the character succeed or will he/she flounder?
It’s a conventional cliff-hanger, one I’m surprised I didn’t see before probably because I was so wrapped up in the story being resolved. If this kind of emotional cliff-hanger is used in their next film I’m worried whether it’ll be effective enough or whether it’ll draw me out of the film by how obvious it will be.
I’m concerned that if it’s used again whether, when I look back at Toy Story 3 (indeed their whole catalogue), I’ll find the same kind of enjoyment or appetite for watching their films I had when I first watched it. I hope so.